Microsoft Surface tablets: Reading the fine print

Microsoft Surface tablets: Reading the fine print

Summary: Here are a few more hidden tidbits about Microsoft's new Surface tablets, launched in Los Angeles on June 18.


Yesterday Microsoft announced it would be making two Windows tablets of its own -- one Windows8-based and another Windows RT-based. Today, pundits, partners and potential customers are sifting through thousands of articles, the streaming video feed of the announcement and online documents for more particulars about the coming devices.

My ZDNet colleague Ed Bott, who was at the Los Angeles announcement on June 18, has all the known speeds, feeds and first impressions. As I have been covering this one from afar, I've been looking through the fine print for additional interesting tidbits. Here's what I've found so far:

Availability: The official word is "Surface for Windows RT will release with the general availability of Windows 8, and the Windows 8 Pro model will be available about 90 days later." Microsoft still has not said when general availability of Windows 8 will be; the widely circulated rumor is October. If that is accurate, it means Microsoft could miss a big chunk of the holiday 2012 sales window with the Windows 8 Pro model, as it won't be out until some time in December.

Pricing: Another case where there's no real answer yet. "Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT," according to Microsoft's press release. Company officials are not sharing any guidance beyond that at all.

Manufacturer: Who is actually making these new tablets? Microsoft designed and "engineered" them. But who is building them? No comment from Microsoft on that one. I'd love to know when and how Microsoft told its other OEMs of its plans to do its own tablet. There were rumors of this happening a year ago.

Distribution: Microsoft's official word is "Both (Surface tablets) will be sold in the Microsoft Store locations in the U.S. and available through select online Microsoft Stores." Will they also be sold in other stores and outside the U.S.? After all, there are still relatively few Microsoft Stores out there (unless you live on the West Coast of the U.S.). I asked about other distribution plans and got a no comment.

Office 2013: Yesterday was the first time that Microsoft officials went public with the fact that the version of Office that will be "included" with Windows RT will be "Office Home & Student 2013 RT Preview." Office Home & Student is Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- the same four apps Microsoft officials said last year would be "included" with Windows RT. (We still don't know precisely what "included" means -- downloadable from the Windows Store? Preloaded? Free? Microsoft officials still won't say.

But the more interesting word here is "Preview." I've seen many speculating that Microsoft would rush Office 2013 (Office 15) to get it out by the time Windows RT is generally available or delay Windows RT until Office 2013 was released to manufacturing. The word I've heard is Office 2013 won't even be released to manufacturing until November this year, with general availability slated for early 2013. That explains why a "Preview" will be what's "included." I'd think Microsoft would push the final bits to customers via the Windows Store once they're available.

Cameras: There are two cameras on these tablets. Both the front-facing and rear-facing ones are Microsoft LifeCams. One might think Skype VOIP integration is now guaranteed, but there was no word of that yesterday at all.

The "old" Surface products. The Samsung SUR40, the smaller and lighter version of Microsoft's Surface multitouch tabletop, is no longer sporting the "Surface" branding. Instead, it's now officially PixelSense. The Samsung SUR40 with Microsoft PixelSense is the official name of the device launched in January this year. The old Surface Twitter handle is now "mspixelsense." There's a new Surface twitter account, but it's locked and hasn't accepted any followers so far. More Surface hardware to come: It seems like the two tablets announced yesterday may just be the first of a number of Microsoft-Surface-branded hardware -- at least based on this press release tagline: "Microsoft-made hardware to be available starting with release of Windows 8 and Windows RT." (emphasis mine) Maybe there will be other Microsoft tablets, PCs... maybe even phones introduced as part of the new Surface family.

Why Los Angeles: Many of us guessing in advance as to what Microsoft might be announcing on June 18 figured the location, Los Angeles, implied there'd be a heavy dose of entertainment content and partnerships to go along with whatever else was unveiled. Microsoft hardly mentioned entertainment at all, other than to announce Netflix was doing a Windows 8 app. No Hulu. No Disney. No Xbox Music or Xbox Video demos or additional details. So why LA? A Microsoft spokesperson said the company chose LA because it had good production houses, a great venue (Milk Studios) and was an easier place to keep things secret.

And the most pressing question of all -- Why no brown Surface tablet cover: There will be a handful of Surface touch-cover colors from which to choose. But no brown. Microsoft's been there and done that. Maybe they could try again but call it "UPS Brown" this time?

What other interesting omissions and factoids have you found in your Surface search?

Topics: Software, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Tablets, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • The biggest issue...

    The biggest issue for me is delivery date...

    Is this thing really giong to be realased in October? That's a darned long time to have to wait for a product. We've got almost half of June to go, then all of July, August and Spetember, and them sometime in October?

    And then, of course, if you want the full Win 8 version you've got to wait three more months.

    I mean, I'm glad Microsoft is making progress on Win 8 and releasing a tablet, but I really wish they'd shown it off when they were ready to say "And you'll be able to buy pick one of these up in the Microsoft store early next month."
    • Manufacturing process?

      Even though I would also like it to be release sooner, Microsoft cant release surface without first releasing W8. I also think that the manufacturing process may have slowed the production of the tablets (lack of capacity?).
      • Simple solution: Wait!

        I see no big deal with early preview of some product. It can not harm MS as much as surprise. Remember MS forebode most Android OEM's from producing Win8 one. So now everybody seen cards. Complete surprise in the day of Win8 release could make this even more harmful to MS<-->OEM's relations.
      • Easy just name it "Surface Preview";-) nt

        Richard Flude
      • @przemoli

        I am sorry to point out but the word is not 'forebode' but 'forbade' which is the the simple past of 'forbid'.

        And no. I am not the grammar nazi around here.
    • Probably August...

      I believe Windows 8 will RTM in August. For the holiday season, August means they can have full version of these tablets ready to go at the end of November for black Friday and the holiday shopping season. We have to give MS a little credit...I hope
      • Windows 7 RTM was in august 2009

        So august would indeed be a good bet for Windows 8 as well.
        However I would not expect the surface to appear before september or even earl october.
        Microsoft would need a decent amound of apps to be in the marketplace pretty quick even to make that date possible.
      • Can't you read?

        "I believe Windows 8 will RTM in August. For the holiday season, August means they can have full version of these tablets ready to go at the end of November for black Friday and the holiday shopping season. We have to give MS a little credit...I hope "

        " The official word is ???Surface for Windows RT will release with the [b]general availability of Windows 8, and the Windows 8 Pro model will be available about 90 days later.[/b]???

        Sound pretty clear and reasonable. These devices will ship in October/November, and January/February. The January/February time frame makes sense as IT budgets should be getting a refresh around then. This crap about August, is just Fanboy pipe dreams.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Not a bad thought

        I wonder how many (not if) of the OEM's already know about the basics and have preliminary designs in the works.
      • Sheesh!

        Jumpin' Jack Flash needs to get up to speed on the difference between RTM and GA before he starts flaming.
        Lester Young
      • Windows apps to be on market place???

        I'm wondering what's this deal about having the lack of windows apps on the market when every other application everyone uses on any windows platform is a Windows app?
      • @ chaowei - just because the OS has been compiled to work on an

        ARM-based hardware set, doesn't mean that any other software has.
        just because your program runs on XP doesn't mean it will run on windows embedded.
        the type of processor is the key.
        the windows OS and software would have to be recompiled to run on a sparc-based machine too.
        same goes for the power-based machines, like the mac was once upon a time.
        apple changed the mac over to intel-based hardware because they didn't want to share with motorola and ibm any more.
        does your old mac software run on the new mac?
        if so, only because apple built an emulator that makes it think it's still on the old system.
        generic emulators that convince software that it is running on a totally different computer are called a VM, virtual machine.
        invisible emulators are called a sandbox (i.e. Chrome)
        i have a blackberry emulator installed to test software compiled for the playbook.
        my computer is running 64-bit windows, which runs a 32-bit emulation layer to allow 32-bit programs to run.
        ARM is 32-bit.
        most new intel processors are 64-bit capable.
        but unless the OS is also 64-bit, it won't run 64-bit software.

        hope this helps your understanding.

    • October is 4th quarter, Windows 8 hits in 3Q

      The RT will hit sometime around august or September, and the Pro model will be out for the holidays. Sounds like a pretty solid release timetable to me.
      • Don't forget

        There is a delta between RTM and GA for Microsoft. Usually 3 months or so. Will be interesting if they handicap their OEMs by allowing the Surface tablets to be generally available/for sale before the OEMs are ready to start selling their Win 8 PCs and tablets.

        The latest rumored GA for Windows 8 and Windows RT is October. MJ
        Mary Jo Foley
      • Why even take a chance on buying OEMs tablets...

        When you know Microsoft's official WinRT and Win8 Pro tablets will be released shortly after.

        On one end I think Microsoft needed to dictate their own future/relevance in this market by releasing their own. But on the other hand, this move will greatly hamper their OEM partners looking to sell Win RT/8 tablets in the coming months.
      • No offense to the OEMS, but they need to step up...

        In response to Dave: I don't think it will hamper OEM production. I'd like MS to set the bar. This is what we expect of win8 tablets. Asus did a nice job with the Transformer for Android. Lenovo's keyboard case for their tablet is nice. People want to stop dragging laptops around and want integrated tablet solutions. Nobody is really giving them so MS steps up to the plate with a unique solution and a supposedly solid tablet. Let their OEMS step up to the plate instead of giving us compromised crap.
      • MS Fiscal Year

        Most companies are more worried about their fiscal year, than the calendar year. Microsoft's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. That puts October at the beginning of their second quarter. That gives them two more months of slippage to still meet their Q2 targets.
    • Agreed

      Announce and ship. That's what XBOX did with the new XBOX a couple of years ago.
    • I suspect the RTs will come sooner than expected...

      Microsoft has been working on these for a while (obviously). Since their OEMs knew about this for a year or so, why keep it secret, unless...

      ...unless Microsoft plans to surprise us again with an early release date... like for back-to-school (late August, early September). If the number will be limited at that time, they could limit purchases to those with a valid college ID until more are available. It could help build buzz and demand...
    • Batteries take time!

      This is obviously a work in progress. They must be having serious problems coming up with a decent battery since they won't talk about how long it might last. I figure they didn't want to say "currently just under 5 hours" yesterday.